Looking Back - Past history being made now

Leo Billington

Queen Elizabeth 11 succeeded to the Throne on February 6, 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI.

Before the King’s death, a proposed 1954 royal tour was a much-anticipated event. Planning had commenced in 1949 for King George VI to visit Australia and New Zealand. However, due to the King’s ill health, in October 1951, it was decided the then Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh would undertake the trip instead.

By the time the 1954 royal tour arrived in Australia, the princess was then Queen.

In Traralgon, Morwell, Moe and Yallourn, Councillors and other luminaries began to stamp their presence. Arrangements were necessary.

Morwell Shire Council President, Councillor Alan Hall called a public meeting for Monday October 5, 1953. There was one agenda item – “to arrange Morwell’s part in the celebrations for the visit of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11.”( Morwell Advertiser, September 24, 1953.)

The Royal Tour of 1954 - Royal Train

A decision was made somewhere else in Australia that “on the trip through the Latrobe Valley, the Royal party will stop at Traralgon and Yallourn, and the royal train will pass through Morwell at three miles per hour.”

This itinerary was not quite what Morwellians wanted but it was “set in granite” and a change was not possible.

So, on with the show, so to speak. At the public meeting, discussion focussed on whether school children would travel to Traralgon. If this was agreed, was there an allocated area or, should the children assemble along the railway line at Morwell? The meeting also discussed arrangements for decorating Morwell.

Apparently, the train would travel from Traralgon at six miles per hour, then slow down to three mph. Hence, children assembled along the line would get a better view. It was estimated more than 1000 children would need to be transported to Traralgon.

While Councillors were wondering, Mr J Eliot, headmaster at Commercial Road State School, decided he had best think about the logistics of having children see the passing train. With Councillor White supporting him, Mr Eliot was pointed out over 2,000 children from Morwell and district were wanting to see Her Majesty. Mr Eliot made a valiant offer – he would organise children along the railway line opposite the school. Council deferred on this offer.

On January 7, 1954, Councillor Jim Bush made a bold suggestion at Council’s meeting immediately before Christmas – that occupants of houses fronting the railway line are certain to be asked to decorate their homes for the day the Royal train passes through Morwell.

Hence, the matter was passed to the Morwell Decorations Committee. Councillor Bush, also being a member of the Morwell Chamber of Commerce, indicated that bunting would be used to decorate the town. However, a decision was made somewhere else that the railway station would not be decorated, as once proposed, because the Royal train was not stopping.

The Decorations Committee was asked to lobby for a change in this decision.

Seven days later, it was announced the Royal train would arrive at Morwell doing a “testing run” at 11.32 am. It would then return en-route to Melbourne from Traralgon at 2.25 pm. Two chances to see the “testing run”.

Still in that same week, a competition was announced – with a first prize of 5/5/- for the winner – to design an appropriate Royal pennant for waving as the train went past. A winner was selected, Master D Mowat of 5 Gona Street, Morwell, and the Morwell Shire Council agreed to order 2000 pennants in gold lettering on a royal blue base. These pennants would be distributed “to the children of the Shire” the day of the Royal visit. (Morwell Advertiser, January 14, 1954)

Still in that same week, the Morwell Shire Council did not think the allocated special train to take Morwell shire residents, including school children, to Traralgon would be large enough. There were plans for a special train carrying an expected 700 passengers to come into Morwell from Mirboo North. This train would also bring passengers from Boolarra and Yinnar. Train fares had to be paid.

On January 28, 1954, Morwell Shire Council announced it was considering a full day public holiday as did Yallourn and Traralgon. On February 25, 1954, a formal announcement was made that all Gippsland municipalities would observe March 3, 1954 as a full public holiday.

The Royal Tour of 1954 - Welcome Banner

Plans for local entertainment were also outlined, modern dancing in the Traralgon RSL hall, Old Time Dance in Traralgon’s Town hall, with proceeds going toward defraying Morwell’s financial commitments. A portrait of the Queen, which was in Morwell’s Shire Chambers, was to adorn Traralgon’s Town Hall that is, only on loan.

With one month to go, people of note were starting to run around in ever decreasing circles. Who was doing flower decorations? Should there also be paper flowers made – if yes, by whom? Then was the “burning issue” – how to obtain enough railway carriage space to enable hundreds of persons to effectively travel across to Traralgon? (It became evident that school children were coming from Leongatha as well.)

By early February, working bees were busy making flower decorations. Who was paying for all this? Morwell business owners were encouraged to decorate shops and premises. Latrobe Valley Buslines offered some assistance to carry passengers from outlying areas such as Morwell Bridge, Hazelwood and anywhere in-between. Was traffic chaos expected? Who would manage traffic congestion? Who will assist with disabled children? (Morwell Advertiser, February 11, 1954).

More questions required answers with three weeks to go. With 600 cubs and scouts expected, who will co-ordinate this aspect? Sunday working bees were required to have decorations ready. Perhaps houses facing the railway line should be decorated.

Who or what might underwrite the cost to support Traralgon’s outlay? An idea – have a town garden competition to raise money. Also, and this happened, appeal to local residents for money. Within the remaining weeks, a grand total of 193/2/- was raised. Success!

Why was Traralgon being considered more important than Morwell? Councillor White deplored the decision not to have the railway station decorated. He felt it “would create the impression that Morwell was dead.” (Morwell Advertiser, February 25, 1954.) Some Councillors opposed any payment to Traralgon – they wanted the honour while someone else paid for it some believed. One Councillor suggested Morwell “looked after its own section.”

Morwell Shire Council did eventually agree to supply two trucks and about 12 men for a period of three days.

The Morwell Advertiser, March 4, 1954 trumpeted the following, as its front page:

“An estimated 70,000 Latrobe Valley and Gippsland residents gave the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh a tremendous welcome at Traralgon, Morwell and Yallourn yesterday. From the moment that the Queen made her appearance on the official dais at Traralgon, until the Royal train left Yallourn, the loyalty, affection and pride of the people was expressed in scenes of moving enthusiasm. History was made with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, and in its making, all who were privileged to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty, gained an unforgettable memory that will rank as the experience of a lifetime. Particularly impressive was the magnificent reception accorded the Royal couple by the children, and at both Traralgon and Yallourn, they were given prominent positions.”

The Royal Tour of 1954 - Touring Yallourn